Opponents criticize Mollis, Kilmartin over 38 Studios

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Critics of R.I. Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin on Tuesday seized on Target 12’s new findings about possible undisclosed lobbying by 38 Studios insiders to argue they’ve failed to scrutinize the deal closely enough.

Mollis, who is barred by term limits from running for secretary of state again, is now facing Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. McKee’s campaign took aim at Mollis after a document obtained by Target 12 showed attorney Michael Corso was paid $300,000 by 38 Studios to interact with state officials.

“Ralph Mollis’s ‘too little, too late’ decision doesn’t change the fact that he spent years asleep at the wheel as secretary of state, and publicly defended 38 Studios’ failure to register to lobby state government,” CJ Macklin, McKee’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

“It’s unfortunate that it took an investigative report by WPRI’s Tim White to get the secretary of state to do the work needed to protect taxpayers,” he continued. “Mollis failed at his responsibility as secretary of state to ensure that powerful companies trying to influence government at least do so in the light of day.”

State Sen. Lou Raptakis, D-Coventry, previously criticized Mollis during his unsuccessful 2010 Democratic primary challenge to the incumbent secretary of state for failing to police lobbyists adequately. On Tuesday, Raptakis said the new Target 12 findings reinforce the arguments he made during that campaign.

“I don’t know that he would have prevented the debacle of 38 Studios, but indirectly it probably could have had some kind of bearing on the issue,” Raptakis told Target 12. He added: “I mean, it was just absolutely ridiculous that nobody even paid attention.”

Raptakis alleged that Mollis had allowed lobbyists to “come in through the back door of the State House” to push for legislation. Mollis has denied that he did too little to look at who was lobbying for 38 Studios, saying he had no hard evidence about what happened prior to being shown the Corso contract obtained by Target 12.

Guillaume De Ramel, a Democrat who ran against Mollis in the 2006 primary and is now running for the job again, said he was “pleased” the secretary of state is opening a probe into 38 Studios’ lobbying activities.

“The people of Rhode Island have cause for concern when Curt Schilling and his associates were able to prance throughout state government and push for taxpayers to subsidize their business without going through the proper lobbying procedure,” De Ramel said in a statement.

De Ramel also pledged to “create a clear and concise definition of lobbying, increase penalties for noncompliance, and expand [the] scope of the office’s lobbyist tracking capabilities” if he gets elected secretary of state in November.

De Ramel’s opponent in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, Nellie Gorbea, said she would “provide total transparency and accountability to restore Rhode Islanders’ trust in government” if elected.

“We need to get to the bottom of this – Rhode Islanders need to know that if someone violates the lobbying rules, there will be a price to pay,” Gorbea said in a statement. “The people of this state have been burned too many times by insider dealing of the well-financed and well-connected.”

Kilmartin – whose office on Tuesday directed the state police to help Mollis look into the 38 Studios lobbying revelations – drew criticism from state Sen. Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, who is running against him for attorney general. Hodgson said he “absolutely” would have looked at the issue earlier.

“The real shame of the 38 Studios experience has been a complete lack of oversight from any, any area in government,” Hodgson told Target 12. “At every stage where the leaders of Rhode Island, our elected and appointed officials, had the chance to do the right thing for the people – at its inception, at its execution and then its aftermath – they’ve fallen down,” he added. “And it’s just not right.”

The process for dealing with a violation of lobbying rules is for someone to bring “a verified complaint” to the secretary of state, Hodgson said. “The attorney general can bring that complaint on behalf of the people – he is the state’s lawyer,” he said. “It would be then up to the secretary of state if a violation had taken place and issue the sanction, which is a relatively modest financial fine.”

“If the individual who has been determined to violate the law decided not to pay or ignored the order, then the attorney general could bring criminal charges for violating the final order,” he said.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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